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Oral-health

23 September 2018

Why gum disease can affect so much more than your oral health

Gum disease isn’t just disastrous for your teeth, but also for the rest of your body. Here is why you should step up your oral health routine.

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Have you been skimping on your oral care routine lately? Be aware that there is much more at stake than only your teeth and gums.

Your oral health can affect your whole body. More and more evidence seems to be showing that there is a strong association between gum disease and serious health problems such cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and even pregnancy complications.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, explains why your overall health is intrinsically linked to your oral health. "The link between oral health and overall body health is well documented and backed by robust scientific evidence. Despite this, only one in six people realises that people with gum disease may have an increased risk of stroke or diabetes. And only one in three is aware of the heart disease link."

What is the connection?

You might be wondering how the state of your gums and teeth can be connected to your internal health. Here's how gum disease is linked to significant health problems:

1. Oral health and your heart

In the case of heart disease, some theories seem to link to the bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria enter the blood stream, where they land on existing artery plaques and aid in clot forming, ultimately causing cardiovascular diseases.

Research has shown in the past that people with gum disease are twice as likely to suffer from artery disease as people without gum disease.

2. Oral health and diabetes

There is an even stronger link between gum disease and diabetes, according to research. Gum disease can actually increase blood sugar levels in the body, which can ultimately lead to diabetes, or make it harder to control diabetes if you are already diabetic. Studies have shown that people with gum disease are more likely to have uncontrolled blood sugar than those without. 

3. Oral health and inflammation

Your overall health is also affected by the presence of inflammation in the body caused by gum disease. The more inflammation in your body, the higher your risk for developing infections and slowly damaging the heart and brain over an extended period of time. "Periodontal disease increases the body's burden of inflammation," says periodontist Dr Hatice Hasturk of the Harvard-affiliated Forsyth Institute, a not-for-profit research organisation focused on oral health.

4. Oral health and pregnancy complications

There is some evidence that gum disease can lead to possible pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia. There is also research that suggests that 18 in 100 premature births can be linked to gum disease. Unfortunately the hormonal fluctuations caused by pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease as this changes the body’s response to plaque. To avoid pregnancy complications and gum disease altogether, it is important to step up your dental routine during pregnancy. 

Visit your dentist before you try to conceive to rule out any possible signs of gum disease and risk of bacteria in your mouth entering the bloodstream and affecting the placenta. 

5. Oral disease and cancer risk

Gum disease is not only associated with the above medical problems, but also with cancers of the head and neck, as previously mentioned in a Health24 article. In fact, a number of studies have suggested that tooth loss caused by gum disease may be linked to various types of cancers. 

gum disease

How to prevent gum disease 

A proper oral hygiene routine is key to help prevent gum disease. Make sure to:

  • Brush and floss at least twice a day.
  • Use a mouthwash to get rid of plaque. 
  • Go for regular check-ups at the dentist – you are advised to go every six months, although this can vary from every three months to two years depending on your overall oral health and risk for gum disease.
  • Get your teeth professionally cleaned to get rid of hardened plaque, also known as tartar.

According to a previous Health24 article, early symptoms of gum disease may include bleeding gums during brushing or flossing; swollen, red or tender gums; loose teeth; gums that recede or move away from the tooth; persistent bad breath; or a bad taste in mouth that doesn’t go away with brushing or flossing. Consult your dentist when you experience these symptoms to prevent further damage to the teeth. 

Harvard Medical School also states that while there is as yet no evidence that preventing gum disease will definitely prevent other diseases, it is still important to acknowledge the link between oral health and overall health and take good care of your teeth and gums. 

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Oral health expert

Dr Imraan Hoosen qualified from the Medical University of South Africa in 1997. Together with his partner, Dr Hoosen now runs a group of dental practices around Johannesburg (Lesedi Private Hospital, Highlands North Medical Centre , Brenthurst Clinic, Parklane Clinic, Simmonds Street Medical and Dental Centre, Soni Medical Centre- Newclare). Dr Hoosen can be contacted on 011 933 4096.

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The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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